Archbishop’s assasination story

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Historic dramatisation . . . An all-female cast, led by Helen Fearnley (centre) as doomed archbishop Thomas a Beckett, presented T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral at the weekend. PHOTO: ODT FILES

St Paul’s Cathedral creates an authentic backdrop and atmosphere for performances of T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral

Presented by Dunedin Medieval Society, in conjunction with Suitcase Theatre, the production also marks the centenary of the cathedral.

Performances started last night and continue on Friday and Saturday at 7.30pm, and Sunday at 2pm.

Director Jonathan Cweorth has assembled an all-female cast of 12, led by Helen Fearnley in the role of doomed archbishop Thomas a Becket.

“The period was completely male-dominated, so it has been good to flip it around and make all the authority figures female,” Cweorth said.

“The actors have taken to their roles so naturally that it makes perfect sense.”

Performing in verse has proven an interesting, but enjoyable challenge for the cast.

“T.S. Eliot was a major fan of Elizabethan-Jacobean drama, and wrote several plays in verse Murder in the Cathedral is beautiful,” Cweorth said.

Janice Snowden, who plays one of the temptations, said working in verse was very enjoyable for the performers.

“Intellectually, it is very stimulating, she said.

Becket was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his murder in 1170, at the hands of followers of King Henry II of England.

The play traces the events from Becket’s return from exile in France to his murder, and includes a scene in which he is offered the temptation of worldly pleasures, political power, and martyrdom.

Murder in the Cathedral showcases some less-seen areas of St Paul’s Cathedral, by staging scenes in the dean’s foyer, the crypt, the choir stalls, and the church itself.

“It’s ideal for us to have scenes in different spaces, and it’s also a good way to give audiences a chance to experience different aspects of the cathedral as well,” Cweorth said.

Playing Becket is proving an enjoyable challenge for Fearnley, as she explores the dilemma and emotions of a man in the midst of a power struggle with the king.

“It was a very dramatic time in his life, when he has an incredible decision to make – he is a fascinating character,” Fearnley said.

The actors will wear authentic costumes created by Charmian Smith, and also medieval-style shoes created by Helen Davies.

The Rare Byrds chorus will also play a role in the performance, singing medieval church music as specified by Eliot.

In addition, the Rare Byrds recorder consort will perform medieval and renaissance music.

The Dunedin Medieval Society will also serve mulled wine at the interval.